The Trail’s Gift
The bicycle is a powerful tool. Of late, that power has been focused on the environment, health and sustainability. Whether a used bike or a new bike, an expensive bike or a cheap bike, a mountain bike or a road bike the bike is a transformative object. Here at Bicycle Blue Book we spend a lot of time researching used bike values, setting up retail partners and generally trying to create the safest, most reliable place to discover used bike values and sell used bikes. But we also ride bikes, we ride bikes a lot and sometimes the bicycle’s power manifests itself in small, very personal ways and it was this type of power I thought about on a recent ride.
Lately, I have remembered some words my father told me many years ago. I was 17 and my heroin-like addiction to riding was in full cry. My letter of acceptance to university had just arrived and it was the big envelope, so I knew it was good news. As I felt an enormous amount of relief, my mother, who had kept my wandering mind on track for four years, felt an enormous amount of accomplishment. My father simply said, “Just when you’re getting interesting, you leave.”
To backtrack a little, my father wasn’t some distant, cold man that couldn’t relate to children. He was as engaged and present as any boy could hope for—a constant presence in our home of thoughtful conversation and the witty one-liner. And yet, I never quite knew what he meant by that comment, “Just when you’re getting interesting, you leave.”
I am a father myself now, with three young kids in various stages of their own development, and as they grow and accomplish new things each moment is incredibly satisfying. But as my oldest has now entered high school, and my middle son is wrapping up elementary school, I hear those words ringing in my ears with increasing frequency.
In less than four short years my oldest son will be gone; within another four, in rapid succession, my other two children will follow. As my kids get older, and closer to the inevitable d-day, they take less and less supervising. Instead of caretaker and dependent we have become companions. We talk books, sports, and occasionally, even relationships. In short, they are becoming more interesting as people, not just as my children. With each passing day I relish spending time with them and hearing their thoughts more and more.
Here is the catch-22, the fly in the soup: as they become more interesting I know the day they will pack up and leave is getting closer. My time left with them is measured in some tauntingly inverse relationship of interest to time. So, my goal now is to maximize that time, to spend as much of my day engaged and interacting with them as I can.
That is the trick. How do you carve out the maximum amount of time actually relating to your children, as distractions and disparate interests vie for their limited attention? I have found a solution so simple, so cunning, that it has been hiding in plain sight my entire life.
I have one son that loves his road bike and looks a bit like a miniature Contador as he dances on the pedals when the road turns up. I have another son that would rather be digging jumps and trying to 360, catching it all on GoPro. While they both pedal, there is a yawning chasm between the ways they do it. Only the trail can bring them together.
It started out innocently enough, a spur-of-the-moment decision to invite my two boys along as I took a new 29er out for a quick test ride. After a few miles of asphalt we dropped into the river bottom and poked around looking for an easy river crossing to one of my favorite loops, the Wills-Rice trail. I was begging my dirt jump son to raise his saddle and look like a trail rider, while telling my roadie boy to stop walking the technical bits when it occurred to me. I was out with my boys, on my territory, with hours to ride and no cell phone service in sight. I quickly shut my mouth and just pedaled.
What followed was two of the best fire road climbing, single-track descending, trail map checking hours of my life. Each of my boys found a reason to fall in love with the trail that day. My climber tackled the pitches with aplomb, finding traction under the silty dirt. My hucker approached every technical section and discovered a desire to accelerate with a pure faith in speed and suspension that I have never shared. Only the trail could bring the three of us together like that, laughing, suffering and above all, talking.
That spur-of-the-moment ride finished up over a large order of fries at the local hole in the wall. As every trail rider knows, the discussion that followed was as much about the trails we didn’t ride as the trails we did. Every turn we didn’t take was full of possibilities, and they wanted to explore those possibilities—they had to explore those possibilities. To watch this happen to a new trail rider is a wondrous thing, when those new trail riders are your children it is an almost religious experience. We pedaled for home with the next ride already firmly planned.
We have since ridden a foggy morning off our back wheel climbing to the summit of Sulphur Mountain to see the peaks of our Channel Islands pierce the gloom 30 miles distant. We’ve watched my youngest heave up his French toast 30 minutes into a hammer session, only to mount up again saying, “Wow, I feel much better.” Nothing will make a 14-year-old boy respect his 11-year-old brother like finishing a ride with your breakfast splattered on your pedals. Only the trail could give us that.
Of course, there are other ways to spend time with your kids. There is soccer, baseball, football, but pastime’s like that typically put everything in the coach/player context. The trail allows us to be equals. It allows us to enjoy each other as we are. It doesn’t ask for drills or strategy. We aren’t preparing for anything or working on some perceived weakness. We are enjoying the moment, and for a father that sees the moment as a diminishing resource there is no better gift. The trail has given me that gift, and I think, given it to my kids as well. They may not know it yet, they may not understand it until their own kids are slipping away, but they will remember when the time is right. If not, I’ll just remind them. I’ll remind them with a nice, long trail ride.